Rewind four years. North American League of Legends didn’t need to have import rules yet. TSM, as per usual, was on top of the region. I still thought I had a chance at being good at the game.
In fact, I had such confidence that when Evan “Evaniskus” Stevens and Andrew “Nk Inc” Erickson asked me if I wanted to play ‘Ranked 5s’ with their new team, I accepted without a doubt in my mind. Keep in mind that back then, Ranked 5s were actually important, unlike whatever beast Flex Queue has evolved into today. The top 20 teams made it into a qualifier which eventually led to the Coke Series, these days known as the North American Challenger Series (NACS).
As expected, most of the competition was a joke. It was a field of aspiring teams composed of one-trick-ponies trying to piece their awful strategies together, so we won most of our games. Actually, we shit on everyone.
That is, until we had the (un)fortunate experience of matching up against LMQ.
See, while individual Korean players had yet to see how pathetic this region was, China had already identified an opportunity for an Asian invasion. The conquerors arrived under the banner of LMQ, who, for all intents and purposes, was a mid-tier LPL team at the time. Translated into American, that would roughly put them at the top of our league (they finished 1st place in their first NA LCS split). After seeing the announcement from Riot Games about the NA Challenger series, LMQ was eager to grind some ranked 5s and take advantage of the open system. One thing in particular though was very very not mid-tier about their roster: their top laner Xiao “ackerman” Wang.
Ackerman, formerly GodLike, was fresh off of a World Championship Finals appearance with his previous team, Royal Never Give Up. It’s no question the superstar on that team was AD carry Jian “Uzi” Zi-Hao, but ackerman was no slouch either. In fact, he had just climbed to Rank 1 on the main Chinese server, and was known as the ‘King of Renekton’.
Guess who he played against me?
If you didn’t already know, I’m Shyvana in this video (all top laners then were either Renekton, Shyvana, or Mundo). We were under the Dadslammers banner at the time, which Riot made us change soon after, much to our collective sadness. I wouldn’t encourage anyone to watch this game. It was the first of many matches we would go on to play against LMQ throughout the next two Challenger splits, and was totally not indicative of the events to follow. If you took my advice and spared your eyes, let me spoil the ending for you: we won.
But the top lane was an absolute clinic – a display of pure dominance from start to end, independent of the rest of the game’s affairs. Even in a supposedly ‘no-skill tank matchup’, the discrepancy was obvious.
Yes, I got bodied. Though I don’t believe I was technically ever ‘Flame-Horizoned’, he killed me by himself at level 4 under my own turret. By the 6-minute mark, he already had a 30 minion lead. Aside from my consistent mechanical failures, it was the first time in my League of Legends career that I had felt truly helpless. I couldn’t farm. I couldn’t trade. I might as well have just sat in base until my team won the game without me, because that’s pretty much how it went down. It wasn’t just a difference in skill, but rather a much more glaring difference in knowledge. My own experience–the Solo Q grind, practicing with my team, and spending countless hours at LAN cafés–meant nothing. Ackerman knew the matchup inside-out. He knew who was supposed to win at what stage of the game, how the trading patterns worked, where to push advantages – the whole shebang. He was on a different, almost superhuman, level.
Hell, half a year earlier I had been playing basketball against Metta World Peace, and I would put this game against ackerman above that in terms of mismatched skill. Maybe things would have gone better if no one had told me I was laning against arguably the best Chinese top laner at the time. Before the game had even started, my knees were weak, arms heavy, mom’s spaghetti.
I don’t think I was ever the same after that game. Whatever confidence I had in my own skill going into it was dissected and tossed away by a truly world-class player. In the months to follow, the 1v1 matchups were actually quite a bit closer but the team records were not. We won something like 20% of our games against them, which is to be expected against an LMQ roster which bulldozed through the best North American teams at the time.
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He retired back in 2015. I was never really relevant. But sometimes I think back to those two challenger seasons, the qualifying rounds, and that game – just to enjoy being humbled once again. I cherish the fact that my team was a legitimate stumbling block for our Chinese overlords. We surprised the spectators (albeit few). Through the power of prime Goldenglue and a cheesy pocket-Fiddlesticks by Nk, we were able to overcome the huge skill gap.
But even though that day the Dadslammers took the victory, just between us top laners, we knew who was the real daddy.